Wish you knew what you wanted to be when you grew up? Here’s why you’re still having trouble answering that question.
Have you ever heard a story about someone whose childhood interest grew comfortably into a career?
There’s the kid who constantly messed around with his parent’s computer and naturally pursued a career as a programmer. Or the child with an utter fascination for drawing that led her securely down the path of being a graphic designer.
But guess what? For most of us, that doesn’t happen.
Most of us look at others’ seemingly effortless career choices with envy, because we’re still wondering what we want to be when we grow up. Oh yeah, and we’ve already grown up.
If that’s you, have a look at these reasons that likely explain why you’re having trouble choosing a career direction:
1. You Don’t Know What You Like
The basis for choosing a rewarding career direction is recognizing the topics, activities or environments that are more interesting to you than most other things. Identifying these categories is tremendously helpful because it focuses your career search. You can learn about potential jobs, network and develop your skills in a manner that is specifically targeted to your areas of interest.
If you don’t know what you like, the opposite scenario occurs. Every job in the world becomes a possibility. Or perhaps you try to hit the moving target of today’s coolest or most lucrative career paths. Your attention scatters and your attempts at developing a career suffer.
To remedy this issue, turn an interested eye toward the man (or woman) in the mirror.
Take a look at your computer’s bookmarked sites, the books on your bookshelf and the television programs you enjoy. Ask friends what they’ve noticed about your interests. Try to remember experiences that were particularly enjoyable for you. A few themes will likely emerge.
If your internal search results come back empty, invest time into exploring new things, particularly those things you think you might like. These do not need to be immediately relevant to a career path. It may sound silly, but knowing you prefer attending a ballroom dancing class over a book group matters. Ask yourself why you like a certain topic to gain a deeper insight into your preferences, and remember that the main goal with this exploration is to increase your self-knowledge.
2. You Know What You Like, But You Don’t Think It’s Okay
One unfortunate result of humans being such socially oriented creatures is that we’re extremely susceptible to the opinions and doubts of other people. If you’ve been feeling confused about your career direction for a while, my guess is that the true issue probably isn’t a lack of knowledge of what you want. Instead, the confusion stems from the fact that what you want conflicts with what the people around you tell you is acceptable or possible. Often when this occurs, we dismiss what we truly want and instead try to conform to others’ expectations.
A telltale sign that this is occurring is when you have an initial shot of excitement over a particular career path but then wind up avoiding it completely. This avoidance stems from your social sense, which is telling you that people in your life might judge or belittle such a career decision. To dodge this potential discomfort, you retreat. Then you look around and wonder why other career paths never sound that appealing.
The core solution to conquering this issue is to modify your social environment. Find and surround yourself with people who naturally accept who you are deep down. These people may be others who are already pursuing your desired career path. They may be particularly accepting and supportive friends. Or they may take the form of a coach or mentor with whom you click.
Focusing on creating an environment full of social acceptance for what you want will help you to calm down, drop the confusion and realize that your true career aspirations are legitimate and worth honoring.
Remember those people who seemed to have effortless career paths? In all likelihood, they had an awareness of what they liked and an environment that supported them in pursuing their dreams. You may not have had these two things before, but as an adult, you can find ways to provide them for yourself. Hopefully by giving yourself a dose of introspection and an encouraging community, you’ll be able to drop your career decision anxiety and get on your way.
Alison Elissa Horner specializes in helping adults in their 20s and 30s figure out what the hell they’re doing with their lives. You can check out her career coaching blog or sign up to receive her free Career Unstuckinator at www.alisonelissa.com.